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Top Customer Reviews
The film centers around a slightly pompous, idealistic, left wing playwright, Barton Fink (John Turturro), who in 1941, after becoming the toast of Broadway as the pretentious voice of the common man, goes west to Hollywood at the invitation of a major studio in order to try his hand at writing screenplays.
There, he meets studio head, Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner), and his yes man and whipping boy, Lou Breeze (Jon Polito). Asked to write a screenplay for a Wallace Beery vehicle about wrestling, a subject about which the bookish Fink knows nothing about, causes Fink to go into a professional tailspin.
Ensconced in a decaying old hotel, seemingly run by its slightly creepy and unctuous bell hop, Chet (Steve Buscemi), who bizarrely appears on the scene out of a trapdoor behind the hotel's front desk, Fink begins his ordeal . The elevator is run by a cadaverous, pock marked, elderly man. The corridors of the hotel seem endless. The wallpaper in Fink's room is peeling away from the wall, leaving a viscous, damp ooze in its wake. His bed creaks and groans with a life of its own. It is also hot, oppressively hot.
No residents of the hotel are apparent, except for the appearance of shoes outside the doors in expectation of the free shoe shine the hotel offers its denizens and for the noise made by his neighbors. Finks meets one of his neighbors, the portly Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), a gregarious Everyman, possessed of an abundance of bonhomie. A self-styled insurance salesman, Charlie cajoles Fink out of his shell, befriending him in the process.Read more ›
I won't recount the story. Plenty of other reviews do that. Not long ago I was tempted to interpret it. That still seems a valid course, as there is a genuine sense that, beneath its comic, surreal surface, Barton Fink is trying to tell us something urgent and important. Perhaps, but the primal forces in a writer's mind as s/he shapes a great story do that, anyway - often without the writer's specific knowledge.
Rather than a simple allegory, Barton Fink is a collection of surfaces, styles, textures, and mannerisms. That they seem to add up to more than the sum of their parts is the great trick, akin to the way a painter can suggest the dappled depths of a forest with a few deft pats of a fan brush. Which isn't to say the film is shallow. No; there is a lot going on here. But to suggest that this film has a specific meaning is also to suggest it has an answer. Only mediocre films (by the likes of, say, Stanley Kramer or Oliver Stone) provide answers in a attempt to make themselves more important. The Coens (writer Ethan, director Joel), like most of us, haven't a clue about the Mysteries of Life. So they don't try to "...tell us something about all of us, something beautiful..." as Fink himself professes. Instead, they enjoy "...making things up...", like the other writer in the film, the Faulkneresque W.P. Mayhew (played to perfection by John Mahoney).
Somewhere in here, though, the sleight-of-hand, the postmodern flourishes (wherein genres clash and surfaces spill over one another in unexpected ways), cracks appear.Read more ›
The Faust figure is Barton, needless to say. Charley/Karl is Mephistopheles. And Audrey is Gretchen/Marguerite, the admired female figure who turns out to be a little less than what was desired. Barton is frankly devoted to the life of the mind, obsessed with creativity and the longing to learn the secret of life and bring it home to the Little Man, the Common Man. Charley/Mesphisto offers his assistance (by teaching him wrestling--this is a Coen brothers film, remember). He fails, but at last Barton does sell his soul--to Audrey, the no longer idealized "eternal female". And as the deal is sealed with a bout of sex, the camera glides to the bathroom sink, where it slides down (I stole this part from John Simon) straight to Hell, which is ruled not by friendly, easygoing Charley, but by Madman Mundt (the real Karl Mundt, by the way, was a notorious right-wing congressman of the period, for what that's worth).
So okay, it's not a one-to-one correspondence. But neither was "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" perfectly congruent with the Odyssey. (e.g. which one was Homer--the old black guy with the beard or the country DJ?) The Coens use these sources not as road-maps, but as takeoff points, which is as it should be.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Brilliant early Cohen brothers. References to classic cinema wisely used to create something new. Beautiful direction, cinematography and acting. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
Very interesting and entertaining. If you like the Coen brothers, you're in for a treat.Published 2 months ago by Richard L. Kelly
Another Coen Brother's classic. John Goodman is priceless in this movie and the rest of the cast are excellent.Published 3 months ago by Terry G. Crosson
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